FACT SHEET: The Powerhouse Museum ‘move’, Issue 7, 1 February 2023
Tom Lockley, PO Box 301 Pyrmont 2009
This document summarises evidence that the NSW Government’s plans for museum organisational changes in Paramatta and Ultimo are flawed to such an extent that democratic norms are being constantly circumvented.
We have submitted to DPIE that the process is so negligent that State Significant Development status should not be awarded to the proposed changes to THE Powerhouse MUSEUM at Ultimo and and this matter has been under examination since August 6 2022 (see Here).
References can be found for most matters on the Powerhouse Museum Alliance website, including from Tom Lockley Here. Other references can be provided on request, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, since these fact sheets were first developed and circulated in 2017, all Government responses will be publicised, and if necessary, corrections of fact will be immediately issued. So far, no evidence of errors has been advanced. We submit that the project should be immediately stopped and subjected to proper independent examination.
Recent developments: The CMP / EIS ‘consultations’ 2022, new round of ‘consultations’ announced last week:
There have been several major ‘consultations’ regarding this project since 2017, and typically, input has been misleadingly reported. This is outlined more fully elsewhere, but on this occasion, we had undertakings that the process would be properly carried out: the consultations would proceed according to the steps of the Burra Charter, the process would be accurately reported, that this would lead to a Conservation Management Plan and that the CMP would inform the design brief for the work to be done at THE Powerhouse MUSEUM.
Nevertheless a 567-page Conservation Management Plan was released on 21 July. It is obvious that it had been worked on for at least several months, and that the public consultation input was a negligible factor in its development. At no time was there any recommendation, or even support, in the consultation meetings for such ideas as removing the Wran building or demolishing the Steam Revolution display. None of the published submissions support this type of action.
We are told that ‘the 1988 adaptive re-use of the Power House Buildings into the Powerhouse Museum, including the construction of the Wran Building, further obscured rather than enhanced the industrial history of the site’. (CMP 5.3.1). This completely ignores the overwhelming support for the museum and the 1988 conversions expressed by the general public as well as by people with museum qualifications and experience.
Far from being a conservation management plan for the preservation of the remains of THE world-class Powerhouse MUSEUM, this document effectively sanctions its destruction. Since July, a design brief was prepared and issued to selected architects, and a ‘winner’ has been chosen, (12 December 2022) but the public is still denied access to all relevant documents as they are claimed to be ‘confidential’ (letter from Ms Pitman, Create NSW, 20 January 2033).
A new round of ‘consultations’ is currently being widely publicised. Yet the publicity picture itself demonstrates that the decision to demolish the 1988 additions has been made, and we also hear that the original Powerhouse buildings will be stripped out. The Government plans to close the museum at the end of this year. It will reopen sometime in the future as a a ‘creative industries hub’ with an ‘emphasis on fashion and design’. The Government is presenting these decisions as a ‘done deal’. The new ‘consultations’ can have no fundamental influence on events.
Here is a summary of other fundamental planning deficiencies that we have documented throughout:
Alternatives were never properly investigated for the laudable aim of increasing cultural facilities centred on Parramatta. No significant expert input was involved re this basic aim. There was no consultation on basic issues with any significant stakeholders. These deficiencies have persisted over the eight years since the basic announcement. The Government has imposed excessive secrecy and taken special non-democratic measures to avoid following due process. A particular issue is the declaration of the ‘base case’ as the Government’s decision to relocate the Powerhouse Museum – approximately mid-2018: this needs to be explained in terms of legality and democratic process. The opposition to the project expressed by the general public and the museum and arts community is unprecedented. However, their reasoned, evidence-based criticisms and two comprehensive Legislative Council Inquiry reports have been treated with contempt. The financial aspects of the project have been very badly managed, and the waste of taxpayers’ money is enormous. The cost benefits of heritage aspects of the Ultimo museum have been ignored. By restricting the heritage listing to the original powerhouse buildings the heritage value of the bicentennial museum conversion has not been accounted for, and the informed opinion is that this is not valid . Though the initial plans have been modified and the situation has improved, the autocratic decision-making process persists, with consequent ongoing problems.
More details are given below:
1. Alternatives were not investigated. There is near-universal support for improvement of cultural facilities, particularly at Parramatta, the centre of population of Greater Sydney. The idea of moving the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta was suggested for ‘urgent investigation’. Clearly this investigation was not properly done, eg not by Ms Macgregor, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, as was claimed by the Government. Infrastructure NSW, the relevant Governmental body, has clearly stated that its involvement follows from the Government’s decision: it did not conduct any investigation of alternatives.
2. Expert museum advice was not involved in the fundamental decision. There is no evidence of input from any relevant expert, any museum / arts peak body, any of the local government authorities, or any other cultural group.
3. There was no consultation with stakeholders before the November 2014 announcement: Trustees and Parramatta council read of it in the newspapers. The elected council had on several occasions requested that the Government’s chosen site be reserved for open space, but this was ignored by the Government.
4. These deficiencies have persisted throughout. At no time has a Government-sponsored group containing people with relevant expertise examined alternatives to the ‘move’ – If this had been done this project would never have been considered, eg for reasons mentioned in paragraph 9.
5. Treasury document tpp08-5 (2008) required that for all major projects, the base case (the status quo) should be described, and then the alternatives for achieving the stated aim, (obviously to improve the cultural facilities of the Parramatta area) should be considered. The Government sidestepped these requirements by declaring (in mid-2018) that the base case was the Government’s autocratic decision to move the museum. The public clamour to retain key elements , eg Wran Building and the steam gallery, has been ignored. This has resulted in the farcical situation where, eg, the NSW National Trust has constantly and repeatedly expressed reasoned opposition to the entire project but this has been ignored in reporting NTs reaction to the ‘move’.
6. Governmental Secrecy has been extreme, claiming ‘Cabinet in confidence’ to avoid releasing basic information, eg re the business case, the data used to form the business case and even the terms of reference for people providing data to the people designing the business case. Even the fire regulations which allegedly underpinned the need for removal of the massive structures from Ultimo level 1 in March 2021 have not been released!
7. Opposition to the ‘move’ has been enormous (eg the massive Save the Powerhouse Facebook site established March 2015, the full page advertisements of 17 February 2016). At the massive first Inquiry into museums and galleries (23/6/2017 to 17/7/2019), support for the ‘move’ was almost non-existent, apart from Government instrumentalities and a few submissions from Western Sydney business lobby groups. The consequent final report made a fully documented Finding that due process had not been followed, and several recommendations. Surveys have consistently demonstrated overwhelming support for the Ultimo museum.
8. The Government rejected the first Legislative Council Inquiry finding in a brief statement (17/7/2019) that proper governance had been assured by a peer review group and six independent review panels – a statement largely recycled from the Business Case Summary of April 2017. The Peer Review process has been comprehensively shown to be non-existent, and all the Government divulged no information about the the review panels. The findings and recommendations of the second legislative council inquiry (17/2/2020 to 30/9/2022) have been treated with similar contempt, and the Government response is seen as another denial of due process.
9. Plans for financing the ‘move’ have been irresponsible. It was first claimed that the Ultimo site would be sold for urban development to fund the new museum in Parramatta, with surplus used for arts purposes within the Parramatta area. This was supported by ‘studies’, eg by Deloitte, but was ridiculous: the cost of removing and storing Ultimo exhibits and demolishing the museum would absorb any proceeds of land sale ($250 million maximum). The latest ‘official’ cost for the project is $849 million, but museum experts put the cost at around $1.5 billion. The latest proposal enables destruction of the award-winning 1988 Powerhouse MUSEUM and replacing it at a net cost of $500 million when $250 million would return it to world class standard. The decision to demolish and rebuild the Willow Grove building at Parramatta is, again, not backed by any proper costing process and the informed opinion is that proper reconstruction will be prohibitively expensive. This is also relevant to the next section.
10. Heritage aspects of the ‘move’ have been overlooked. The repurposing of the powerhouse buildings was a highlight of the bicentennial celebrations of 1988, and achieved world-wide recognition. The attachment of the community for both the Ultimo building and the heritage buildings at Parramatta is clear, and well-founded: these are marvellous historic buildings. Even if this does not weigh with the decision-makers, there is a clear and considerable monetary value engendered by heritage factors, which has been completely overlooked. The 2020
Government-sponsored recommendation of heritage assessment of the Ultimo buildings was restricted to the basic structure of the original Powerhouse, thereby precluding discussion of the overall museum as a heritage item, and leading to the ridiculous assertion that site had no persons or group of persons with which the building is associated … and is important for its associations with an identifiable group … at a local level only.
Also see here for a wide list of Save the Powerhouse Museum supporters: List of Supporters for Saving PHM